OVERVIEW AND SITE MAP
There are sharks in the literary waters. Deceptions abound, from fee-charging literary agents, to dishonest freelance editors, to fraudulent vanity publishers, to fake contests. Add to that the complications of copyright and the opportunism of the Internet, including the growing number of useless writers’ “services” and the hordes of well-intentioned but amateur agents, publishers, editors, and marketers, and you have a veritable minefield of literary pitfalls just waiting for the unwary writer, whether a beginner or a seasoned pro, whether pursuing the traditional publishing route or working to self-publish.
The good news: if you know the warning signs, it’s really very easy to protect yourself. At the Writer Beware website, you’ll find a full toolkit to help you: detailed discussions of questionable practice, information on how to identify it, advice on how to avoid it, and links to useful online resources.
Here’s a summary (in alphabetical order) of what you’ll find on Writer Beware.
- About Writer Beware: Who are we? What we do? Why do we do it? Get the answers here, including how to get in touch with us.
- Alerts for Writers: Alerts about specific companies and issues of concern to writers.
- Case Studies: In-depth looks at how a number of now-defunct literary scams operated.
- Contests and Awards: Some literary contests and awards are prestigious, but many aren’t. Worse, they may be money-making schemes, or fronts for fee-charging agencies or publishers. On this page you’ll find tips to help you assess a contest’s or an award’s legitimacy, as well as some thoughts on an important question: Is entering worth it?
- Copyright: Misconceptions and myths surround the complex subject of copyright, including the belief that you must register copyright in order to be fully protected (not true–your work is protected from the moment you write down the words), and include copyright notices on unpublished work submitted to agents and publishers (also not true, and liable to produce a bad impression). The Copyright page provides general information on copyright–including why it’s not necessary to register copyright for unpublished book-length work–and punctures some common copyright myths.
- Editors, Consultancies, and Assessment Services: Self-editing is a vital part of the writer’s craft. But there are also a number of situations in which it may make sense to hire an independent editor, or use an assessment or consultancy service. There are many excellent editors and services; unfortunately, there are also many questionable ones, with dubious qualifications, inflated fees, and deceptive come-0ns. This page covers the warning signs, and provides tips on how to choose qualified service providers. There’s also a discussion of the limitations of editing, and why you should consider carefully before choosing this often very expensive option.
- Legal Recourse and Other Remedies: This section provides advice on taking legal action if you believe you’ve been defrauded. It also suggests a variety of avenues for filing complaints about dishonest or fraudulent practice.
- Literary Agents: A good literary agent can be a tremendous boon to a writer’s career. But there are also many disreputable agents who prey on writers by charging fees, promoting their own paid editing services, engaging in kickback referral schemes, and misrepresenting their knowledge and expertise. Equally dangerous are the many amateur and incompetent agents, who lack the skills and knowledge to successfully market manuscripts to publishers.The Literary Agents page discusses questionable agenting practices, offers tips on how to identify and avoid fraudulent and amateur agents, and provides links to help you research agents’ reputations.
- Self-Publishing: A growing array of self-publishing options have made it possible for anyone to publish a book, free of charge or at a cost considerably lower than the old-style vanity publishers. New technology has fueled unprecedented success for some self-publishers, and eroded the stigma that has traditionally been associated with self publishing. Challenges remain, however–in particular, achieving visibility in this increasingly crowded field. And the rise of self-publishing has driven a corresponding rise of schemes and scams aimed at self-publishers. The Self-Publishing page takes an in-depth look at all these issues, and provides tips and links to help you find and evaluate appropriate options.
- Small Presses: The transition to digital technology, which has made it easy and inexpensive to set up a publishing operation, has spurred an explosion of small presses over the past decade or so. But though there are many wonderful small presses, there are even more disreputable ones, including amateur publishers run by people with little or no experience in acquiring, editing, producing, or marketing books. The Small Presses page discusses these problems and the dangers they pose to writers, along with the warning signs of scams, advice on how to judge a publisher’s professionalism, and links to helpful resources.
- Vanity Anthologies: Vanity anthology companies turn their contributors into customers, either by charging a fee for inclusion or pressuring contributors to buy multiple copies. Most commonly, they entice writers with free contests in which most or all entrants are declared finalists. The Vanity Anthologies page exposes how these deceptive schemes work.
- Vanity and Subsidy Publishers: Some vanity publishers are honest and straightforward. Many aren’t, concealing their fees, breaking contract terms, and otherwise defrauding writers. Either way, vanity publishing is a bad idea–and not just because it’s far more expensive than it needs to be. On this page, you’ll learn the warning signs of a dishonest vanity publisher, as well as the many sneaky ways in which vanity publishers attempt to dodge the vanity label.
- Writers’ Services: The past few years have seen an extraordinary increase in the number of people writing and trying to publish books. In addition to fueling an astounding proliferation of scams and schemes, this has also spawned a variety of writers’ services. Some of these services are frauds; a few are genuinely intended to help. Many are just a waste of money. This page discusses common writers’ services and their usefulness (or lack of it).
- Crimes of Persuasion provides an overview of a wide variety of schemes, scams, and frauds, including literary frauds. The “Victims” section offers interesting demographics on fraud victims and the psychological effects of fraud, and there’s an especially useful “Laws” section that includes links to agencies to which various kinds of fraud can be reported.
- How to Sniff Out Literary Scams: tips from writer Marcia Yudkin.
- Writer Beware: my own article on how writers can recognize the warning signs of literary scams.
- Writer Beware: Spotting the Publishing Scam, an article by lawyer Ellen M. Kozak.
- Editor Teresa Nielsen Hayden has some interesting observations on the linguistics of literary scammery: A Brief Note on Linguistic Markers and More Linguistic Markers.
- Sharks in the Water: Old Publishing Scams for the New Millenium, an article by author Alicia Rasley, profiles a number of common literary scams.
- Tips for self-publishers, from author Allan Douglas: Avoiding Self-Publishing Scams.
- Prof. Jim Fisher, of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, is an expert on literary fraud who has written a book about one of the more notorious scams, the Deering Literary Agency. There’s more information at his website.
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